We live in a time where we’re encouraged to dream big and have lofty goals. But our lives have also now become a big balancing act of remaining hungry for growth and also avoid or escape burnout. So how do we grow in our careers, professions, or businesses without burning out?
The Growing Problem of Burnout at Work
Burnout is a concept that we draw from the illustration of a match or candle running out because it burned for too long. Many people today struggle with burnout, especially with the pandemic. One study shows that over 52% of professionals say that the struggle with burnout— up 9% from another pre-COVID-19 survey. Now, our career goals are evolving. We don’t just want to grow our professions, income, or businesses. We want to do it sustainably.
When people burnout, they tend to:
- Experience excessive stress
- Have fatigue
- Have lower levels of productivity
- Increased likelihood for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other physical illness
- Suffer poor relationships (marriage, parenting, friendships)
- Lose all sense of hope and optimism
I’ve been told many times that my lifestyle is the perfect formula for burnout. It’s true that at the rate I pursue my goals and “hustle” has caused times where I got tired. Still, throughout these years, I have been able to overcome burnout. What I have learned is that there is a way for us to still grow in our careers without experiencing burnout. It’s not easy of course, but it is possible. I find that the formula for escaping burnout has been a two-sided coin: a practical side and a philosophical one. Let’s look at those two sides…
Practical Ways to Escape Burnout and Still Experience Growth
So, based on my life experiences, there are three practices that can help you escape burnout and still experience growth.
Find your passion
There’s a divided school of thought when it comes to passion and professions. One one side, people say you shouldn’t pursue passion because it’s not practical. Then there are those that say that work should be something you love doing. I believe in practical passion— finding the passion that brings value to people around you and energizes you in the process. The struggle for many is discovering a passion that they can get good at and that will also pay the bills.
There’s a wonderful concept in the Japanese language called, “Ikigai,” popularized in recent times as a way of determining what your passion and purpose are.
There is definitely a lot of work that goes into finding your passion, but the Ikigai framework is a good place for you to start. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find your passion right away. The journey is always different for everyone.
Focus on productivity, not busyness
We see so many professionals today wear busyness as a badge of honor. But what if busy actually gets you nowhere? Being busy is like being stuck in a hamster wheel— you lose time and energy, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s why we should be focusing on achieving productivity instead. No, they’re not the same thing. Busyness focuses on what you’re doing. Productivity focuses on the outcome of what you do.
One great tool that I have found useful in becoming more productive is one called “The Eisenhower Matrix.” If you want to learn how to use this tool, you can read this blog I made on how I use the Eisenhower Matrix in my context. Hopefully, you can apply it in yours too.
Figure out your balance
We all want to experience work-life balance, but it’s not always easy. I have come to realize that this is because we all think that balance should be the same for everyone— you should have two days off, sleep more, and meditate for thirty minutes daily. While there are universal practices to experiencing rejuvenation and balance like getting enough sleep and having an avocation, there are also contextual aspects to your version of balance. Maybe you find balance by taking 15 minute naps in the middle of your workday. Some might find it refreshing to exercise. Others could consider it rest to volunteer in a charity or church ministry. It’s always different for everyone. So find how you experience balance in your life and follow that regimen.
Now, to the Philosophical Side
Is it still possible to find your passion, focus on productivity, and figure out balance and still experience burnout? Well, I have found that it isn’t likely but it is possible. These three practical steps aren’t a complete solution. That’s why there’s another side to the fight against burnout— the philosophical side. And this is where I will get a bit theological.
Many times that I burnt out was because I was depending solely on my own strength. How I’ve struggled serves as a perfect illustration for that. There was one point in my career when I went through a rut in my business. We had lost over half of our monthly revenue after losing a big client almost unexpectedly. When that happened, I admit I had no intention or capacity to hustle. I just wanted to give up. For the last few months, I had worked hard to make the client happy, did everything I could to serve them, lost sleep, skipped meals, all to make the account work. But none of it amounted to much in the long term.
Looking back to that moment, I can only think about all the sleepless nights and lost time worrying over our next move. Today, our business is in a better place. We’re now earning ten times more than when we had that client and have experienced so much growth. Now, we even work lesser hours. No more late nights working on a project (well, sometimes there still are, I’ll be honest). But through all that time, one thing changed— I learned to let go and let God.
In the midst of storms, we often feel that there is no way to keep your boat afloat and your sail firm. The invincible will of man is suddenly as fragile as thin ice. Your seemingly unlimited strength is suddenly your weakness. Foolproof strategies suddenly bring about more questions. When faced with situations like this, I would think that I had nowhere else to turn to. Never had I been more wrong. God was there all through my hardships. And when I realized that I could turn to Him for strength, wisdom, and rest, my life became more sustainable.
Our True Source of Strength
Acts 1:8 clearly states that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” Are you faced with a trial so big for you to bear right now? Are you facing debt, family problems, lack of direction, or maybe even death? Jesus once made a promise that unlimited power would come upon us when we receive the Holy Spirit into us.
It often feels like God brings trials upon our lives just to make us suffer. Well, that’s partly true. God does bring trials, but His intention is definitely not to make you suffer. It’s to test your faith, and to see who you would choose to trust in times where you are faced with dead ends- yourself, other people or the power of God made available through the Holy Spirit. When we realize that God wants us to achieve great things for Him and to bless others, it removes so much of the emphasis on our abilities and allows us to tap in Him for strength. God wants you to grow, my friend, but not in the way we commonly think.
You see, the world wants you to believe in the myth of self-reliance. That you have to tend to your own growth. But Jesus invites us to abide in Him— to come to Him when we are burdened and weary and to grow in Him instead of on our own. My career growth, personal growth, and spiritual growth all come from staying in God. It’s practically impossible to burnout when we draw from the fire that is God’s perpetually burning
God Wants You to Escape Burnout
I wrote a book entitled “Break: Conquering Burnout with Sabbath Rest,” which outlines all my realizations around my mistakes and learnings about burnout and work. In retrospect, I realize today that God’s desire for us is to escape burnout. That’s why He calls us to rest in Him when we become weary, and to come freely as we are if we are experiencing burnout.
So the question is not really “What do I do when I burn out? When I’m faced with financial difficulty, battling cancer, or about to give up on my marriage?” The true question is “Where do I rely on for strength, capacity and breakthrough?” It’s time to stop trusting in your own ability to hustle. It’s time to receive power.
Acts 1:8 goes on to say, “You will be my witnesses…” For the longest time, I viewed this statement as an an commanding order to follow. Truth be told, it’s more than that. It is a faithful promise to claim. You can’t be a witness if you don’t have a story to tell. That means that when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, He will allow you to experience a story worth telling, a miracle worth sharing, power worth praising, or even all of that.